By TODD STACY and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State lawmakers wrapped up their work on redistricting Wednesday, sending all four maps redrawn with Census 2020 data to Gov. Kay Ivey.
The Senate gave final approval to the congressional district map as well as the one for the Alabama House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the House passed new district maps for the State Senate as well as the Alabama State Board of Education.
Democrats raised several objections to the redrawn congressional districts, particularly as it concerns the racial make up of districts. Sen. Rodger Smitherman said as currently drawn the 7th District packs Black voters into a single district and diminishes their voting power statewide.
“This map packs as many minorities as possible into District 7, weakening their voting influence throughout the state. The Supreme Court has made clear that any gerrymandering must be done with a compelling state interest,” Smitherman said. “If any fairly drawn alternative exists for minority representation, there’s a high likelihood the courts will reject any gerrymandered districts based on race.”
Multiple alternative maps were proposed, some with large-scale changes and some with small. Smitherman offered an alternative plan, originally drawn by the Alabama League of Women Voters, that would reorganize the state’s seven congressional districts and make them more competitive in general elections.
Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, who co-chaired the redistricting committee, said the alternative map would not work because it leaves the state without a majority-Black district, which lawmakers for decades have aimed to preserve in the 7th District.
“There are two problems here – two big problems,” McClendon said. “It violates our rules and it eliminates a majority-minority district in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
Republicans also offered alternative maps, one that put Homewood back in the 6th District instead of the 7th and one that put Escambia County back in the 1st District instead of the 2nd. Ultimately, all alternative maps were set aside and the congressional map passed as introduced 22-7.
The Senate also gave final passage to the new district map for the Alabama House of Representatives with a party-line vote of 25-7. The House returned the favor, passing the new State Senate district map by a vote of 76-26, also along party lines.
The House also gave final passage to revised districts to the Alabama Board of Education by a vote of 76-26.
House minority leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said after the House adjourned on Wednesday that he believes the maps ultimately split too many counties and created less diverse districts overall.
“They should have enough of constituencies within their communities to help them understand what they don’t understand and that makes for good government long term,” Daniels said.
Daniels also said he expects separate legal challenges to come for the congressional maps and state house maps based mostly on the reason that not enough counties were kept whole.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said after adjournment that he expects lawsuits to come but remained hopeful that the new maps were following legal precedent.
“We tried to follow the information that we had from the courts and legal opinions from judges and the research that was done, we tried to follow everything that we could to the closest letter of the law that we could so that we could have a map that would stand the muster in a court hearing,” McCutcheon said.
He also said the fact that the new maps decrease the number of split counties should show the courts a good-faith effort in trying to keep as many counties whole as possible.
While redistricting work is done, the special session has not concluded. Lawmakers continue to debate legislation related to vaccine mandates. The House is set to take up two such bills when it convenes Thursday.